When Flo Cranor's son turned 18, he bought a motorcycle.

"His father and I were not happy campers," said Cranor, a Lakeville resident.

Her son's interest in the bike waned, and it gathered dust in their garage. One day, Cranor's husband decided to take it out for a spin, and when he came back, he told her, "That's not too bad."

Soon, the couple were riding motorcycles regularly. They traveled out to both coasts and to favorite roadways like the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Mountains.

Now widowed, Cranor frequently rides with a group of seniors, ages 60 and up, at the Lakeville Heritage Center.

"I much prefer riding with someone whenever I can," she said.

The group has been meeting for rides since 2005. They organize two or three trips a month from April to September, taking short treks into Wisconsin, down the Mississippi or to places like Northfield or Lanesboro.

"We kind of stay off the main highways or freeways," said Shelly Larson, of Lakeville.

Larson bought her first Yamaha in 1978. She had been working for an airline, and pilots were striking, so she and some co-workers volunteered to be laid off. She enjoyed that summer, she said, riding her motorcycle around to pool parties.

After that, she kept the motorcycle for years, but she didn't have many chances to ride. "Why I didn't sell it, I don't know," she said. "I would take it out and ride it around the cul-de-sac."

She and her husband, Ron, picked up riding again about six years ago, after he retired, and they joined the Lakeville group. She especially likes rides to little towns like Kenyon, Minn., or Stockholm, Wis.

"I just enjoy getting out in the fresh air," she said.

Riding with peers

While plenty of places, such as motorcycle shops and churches, organize group rides and there are large charity ride events in the area, Larson said she and her husband enjoy riding in a smaller group with people her age. Big groups can be overwhelming, she said, and people often drive too fast.

"It's comfortable riding with people your age," she said. "There's no big rush."

Terry Kabes, of Lakeville, has been riding her motorcycle since 1999. She used to ride all over with a group of women, to the East Coast and into Canada.

"I've put a lot of miles on my bike," she said.

She said many of her fellow women riders have now sold their bikes. "The really odd thing with women is we tend to give up riding sooner than men do," Kabes said.

One reason, she said, might be the strength it takes to manage the bike's weight. "As people age, their sense of balance is off," Kabes said.

To contend with that issue, Cranor said she first tried a sidecar. She didn't like that, so she settled on a "trike" conversion for her Harley-Davidson.

The riders meet on occasional Thursday and Saturday mornings, and they chat over coffee before taking off. While they used to schedule a destination for each ride in advance, because of fluctuating attendance — between two and nine generally show — and weather uncertainty, they now just wait until the day of the ride to decide.

"This year, we just wing it," said Richard Thienes, of Lakeville, who started riding a little 90 cc Honda while living in Indiana.

He stopped riding when he had kids, worried about the risks. But these days, he regularly rides his Honda Gold Wing up to the Heritage Center for group outings.

Some of his favorite club destinations? New Ulm, Minn., he said, and the Spam Museum in Austin, Minn.

'Feel the countryside'

Bob Powell, of Lakeville, started riding about 50 years ago when he bought a pile of motorcycle parts and put it together himself. He said that while over the years he generally has gone solo, he started showing up for group rides at the Heritage Center in an effort to be social.

"It's supposed to help you live longer," he said.

The riders admit the open road poses challenges. Kabes said she feels like she sees more distracted drivers these days than ever before.

"We have 'motorcycle eyes,' " Cranor said. "We ride like every car is going to do something stupid, and they do."

Both Kabes and Cranor also agreed that many of Minnesota's roads seem not as smooth as those in as many of the surrounding states.

Still, the simple pleasures make it worth it. Kabes said she especially loves the different scents, such as lilacs in bloom, she experiences when on a motorcycle. Others noted the way riders can feel temperature changes as they go down into cool valleys and then emerge into the warmth up above.

"You just feel the countryside," said Cranor.

"You're part of it," said Kabes.

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Her e-mail is lizannrolfsmeier@gmail.com.